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decided: June 6, 1983.



Author: Per Curiam

[ 462 U.S. Page 111]


Respondent John Fulford was found guilty of murder by a Louisiana jury in 1972. His conviction was affirmed on appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, State v. Nix, 327 So. 2d 301 (1975), and, after exhausting state post-conviction remedies, he sought federal habeas corpus relief. The

[ 462 U.S. Page 112]

     United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana denied relief, App. to Pet. for Cert. A-21, but the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that "we cannot, with the certitude befitting a federal court, affirm that Fulford possessed the mental competency to participate meaningfully in his trial." 692 F.2d 354, 361 (1982) (footnote omitted). We grant the motion of respondent for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and the petition for certiorari, and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

 The bone of contention in this case was respondent's competency to stand trial more than 11 years ago. On the morning of trial respondent's counsel moved to appoint a commission to inquire into respondent's competency to stand trial.*fn1 At the same time counsel moved for a severance. Neither counsel nor respondent had previously broached the question of competency, and nothing appears in the record which suggests that respondent had a history of mental or emotional difficulties.*fn2 The sole evidence submitted in support of respondent's motion for appointment of a competency commission was the testimony of one Dr. McCray, a local psychiatrist. Until the morning immediately preceding trial, McCray had never seen, nor, so far as the record reveals,

[ 462 U.S. Page 113]

     heard of, respondent. Based upon a prison cell interview of approximately one hour the day before trial, McCray testified in the following fashion, as summarized by the Court of Appeals:

"Dr. McCray noted that an evaluation usually requires several sessions as well as a supporting evaluation from a clinical psychologist. Finding Fulford to be well oriented to time, place and person, Dr. McCray nevertheless testified that Fulford had paranoid delusions which rendered him incompetent to stand trial. Specifically, Fulford had told Dr. McCray that he was withholding the names of alibi witnesses who could prove his innocence for fear that they would be arrested and prevented from testifying in his behalf." Id., at 360.

While the Court of Appeals was less explicit than it might have been on the issue, we think a fair reading of its opinion indicates that it concluded under 28 U. S. C. § 2254(d)(8) that the state court's determination that respondent was competent to stand trial was not "fairly supported by the record." See 692 F.2d, at 360-361; Sumner v. Mata, 449 U.S. 539 (1981). We believe that, in reaching this conclusion, the Court of Appeals erroneously substituted its own judgment as to the credibility of witnesses for that of the Louisiana courts -- a prerogative which 28 U. S. C. § 2254 does not allow it. Marshall v. Lonberger, 459 U.S. 422 (1983).

The Louisiana trial judge explained his refusal to order a competency hearing in two per curiam opinions, which contained the following factual findings relevant to his decision. First, the trial judge was convinced that respondent was "oriented as to time, date and place and was cognizant of everything around him." 692 F.2d, at 360. The judge further noted that Fulford's conduct during and after the trial "thoroughly convinced" him that respondent was competent and able to assist in his defense. The trial judge did not "deem it necessary to fill in all the other matters that appeared throughout the trial and all of the post-trial motions that have

[ 462 U.S. Page 114]

     been filed because the record will adequately represent this fact." 4 Record 953. As set out in the margin, there is substantial support for the trial judge's statement.*fn3 Third, the trial judge concluded that the only basis advanced by McCray for his tentative conclusion that respondent suffered from

[ 462 U.S. Page 115]

     paranoid delusions -- respondent's failure to inform his lawyers of the identities of two alibi witnesses -- was unfounded. These two witnesses testified in respondent's behalf less than a week after Fulford convinced McCray that he was withholding the identities of his alibi witnesses. As the Louisiana Supreme Court observed, "it is clear that Mr. Fulford did not withhold the names of his ...

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